The Minnesota Supreme Court has rejected the lawsuit of a driver injured in a crash with a sheriff's deputy who was responding to a call.
A divided court ruled 4-3 that the Hennepin County deputy was immune from liability when he a drove a K-9 unit SUV through a red light in Brooklyn Center in December of 2009.
Jolene Vassalo suffered serious brain damage in the ensuing crash and her lawyer says the 38-year-old will need nursing care for the rest of her life, the Pioneer Press reports.
As the newspaper reports, deputy Jason Majeski was responding to a security alarm call and a request from local police for K-9 help. The vehicle had a flashing light activated but Majeski had turned off the siren as he neared the scene.
Justice Alan Page quoted key phrases from precedent-setting cases as he wrote in the ruling: "Official immunity typically protects the conduct of public officials responding to emergencies on the grounds that emergency conditions offer 'little time for reflection' and often involve 'incomplete and confusing information' so that the situation requires 'the exercise of significant, independent judgment and discretion.' "
In a dissenting opinion Justice G. Barry Anderson was joined by two colleagues in noting that Hennepin County has a policy requiring officers to use both sirens and flashing lights when responding to an emergency.
Hennepin County managing attorney Dan Rogan tells Minnesota Public Radio the court was correct to hold the deputy immune from liability. "We want officers who are responding to emergencies to be thinking about what are the best options that they have," Rogan told the network. "Official immunity protects those split-second decisions that officers are required to make in responding to emergencies."
Attorney Douglas Schmidt tells MPR the lawsuit was aimed at recovering some of Vassalo's medical expenses, which Schmidt says have exceeded $500,000. Schmidt told KARE-11 "This deputy decided it was more important to get to the scene of a neighborhood prank, than it was to protect the public."
The Pioneer Press says the dissenting opinion notes that in 2012 116 accidents involving police vehicles caused injuries in Minnesota.
Last summer the Utah Supreme Court ruled the family of a teenager killed in an accident during a high-speed chase is entitled to sue a Weber County sheriff's deputy for damages. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that ruling prompted a move to change state law and a bill making police officers immune from liability passed the House on Tuesday.